Cards survive scary ninth inning
Bullpen almost lets eight-run lead slip away
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have seen Jason Isringhausen lock down countless three-run wins, but not like this.
They've seen hitters look foolish flailing at his slider, the way Ramon Hernandez did to end Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday. But it's not often the Cardinals closer enters a game with a six-run lead, period, let alone turns it into a save situation instead of converting one.
"Yeah, I like to get booed," Isringhausen said, trying to laugh off the way his team's 8-5 victory over San Diego ended. "No biggie."
Perhaps not. A three-run playoff win is still a win, even if it had the looks of a blowout gone awry. But the fact that the St. Louis bullpen inherited Chris Carpenter's 8-0 shutout in the seventh inning and turned it into a nail-biter with the go-ahead run at the plate when it ended is an indicator that, as talented as the 100-win Cardinals are, the bullpen has issues.
It's a bullpen that lost middle reliever Al Reyes Sunday to an elbow injury and it didn't take long to miss him. Manager Tony La Russa let rookie Brad Thompson get his feet wet and before he could get two outs, the shutout was gone. Randy Flores came on and was soon taken deep by pinch-hitter Eric Young.
Cal Eldred walked the first batter he faced, got Hernandez on a grounder to end the eighth inning, then returned to start the ninth. That's when things got scary.
Khalil Greene doubled. Joe Randa tried to, but Larry Walker's running catch near the warning track made for a hard-fought first out. Pinch-hitter Damian Jackson singled Greene to third and sent Eldred to the showers. On came Isringhausen to face Young, getting him to bounce an outside slider to third for another run.
Two outs and a six-run lead with Isringhausen on the mound and the Cardinals should have been set, but the next four Padres -- Ryan Klesko, Mark Loretta, Brian Giles and Robert Fick -- singled.
"He was too aggressive," pitching coach Dave Duncan said of Isringhausen. "The Padres were ready to swing and he threw strikes. If the game had been a two-run or three-run lead, I don't think you would have seen him that aggressive in the strike zone. As a closer, you can't have the edge you have if it's a close game."
Well, it was now a close game, and Isringhausen pitched accordingly, finally nailing it down with his 15th pitch, a swing and a miss from Hernandez on a slider down and away that ended a three-run, six-hit ninth.
"We won, that's all that matters," said Isringhausen. "I'm not worried about today at all. My velocity was there, I felt fine. The last thing you want to do in that situation is walk them. I threw strikes and they got their hits. No big deal. I was just trying to throw strikes. They hit some decent pitches and a couple bad pitches.
"In a one-run game, I pitch totally different. I'd pitch the way I did to strike [Hernandez] out. When the game's on the line, I make different pitches and the pressure's on the hitter and you throw them out of the strike zone and they chase them."
La Russa said he's not concerned about a bullpen that saw runs yielded by all four relievers used.
"Let me tell you something, you score eight like that, you know, you can't walk guys," La Russa said. "I think every time we walked somebody, I was yelling from the dugout. We got outs we needed. It was hairy there at the end, no doubt about it, but ... you pitch one way when you have a lead and you pitch a little differently when you're trying to make a pitch, and if you walk them, you walk them."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.